A great demo reel alone can get an actor cast for a role, and a poor demo reel can do the exact opposite. With the increasing availability to consumers of editing technology, many novices have taken it upon themselves to edit demo reels, including actors attempting to create their own marketing materials. These actors leave themselves vulnerable to making many “rookie” mistakes based on personal biases or a lack of strategic knowledge. This may result in getting left out of an audition based solely on their reel’s editing, and not because of his or her acting.
1. Montages –
Opening montages at the head of a demo reel are a nuisance and a waste of time for casting directors. Most montages do not highlight acting skills, which is what the casting director needs to see. Montages are nothing more than a fast-paced video scrapbook, showing off a variety of brief moments from various projects. Actors feel that this shows that they have worked a great deal, a detail that the paper resume should highlight. Montages also give the editor a chance to bring his creativity to the forefront of your reel, showing off his skills, not yours – not to mention the fees accrued for editing the montage. If you still want a montage, put it at the end of the demo reel. Start your reel off with a powerful performance clip. That is what the casting director wants to see.
2. A Poor Opening Scene
– The opening scene in a demo reel, your “establishing shot,” needs to illustrate strong acting skills, a compelling character, and perhaps a condensed emotional arc. A powerful opening performance can cast a light of brilliance across the rest of the demo reel, keeping the casting director engaged and eager to see the next clip.
3. Not updating
– It is both vital and very advantageous that actors keep their demo reel up to date with their most current and compelling projects. Just like a paper resume, actors want to highlight their most recent accomplishments. Like the headshot, an actor’s reel should reflect one’s current on-camera appearance. There is nothing more annoying to a casting director than outdated and inaccurate headshots, and the same applies to reels.
Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If your reel is not working for you, try rearranging the clip order; adding, and even removing scenes you currently have represented.
4. No Head Shots!
– It is against industry standards to put a headshot in an acting reel. The inserted headshot takes precious seconds away from the casting director’s attention span. By the time a casting director watches a reel, they have already seen the actors headshot(s) and likely reviewed the resume. Casting directors start with headshots then move to demo reels as they narrow their search.
5. Stars by Association
– Casting directors are looking to hire an individual based on their talent, not who they have shared screen time with. An actor’s demo reel moments should be his or her own, and not highlight a famous co-star’s performance. A star’s presence can help to elevate you. However, the right scene for utilizing star power must have a matching performance that showcases the actor whose demo reel it is. If during a scene with a star an actor does not have any lines, or their face is not visible, or they are off-screen most of the time, then it is not the right scene for a demo reel. A skilled editor can usually recut a scene to bring focus off a co-star and onto the actor, who’s reel is ideally showcasing.
6. Multiple clips of the Same Character
– Returning to a character previously seen in the same demo is not ideal, but can be effective in some circumstances such as when a character has two distinct emotions in the film, but perhaps does not arc within a single clip. Time is of the utmost importance in a demo reel and demonstrating versatility as an actor is key. It must be considered that a given character may not be what the casting director is looking for; therefore repeating more of the character portrayal would only reinforce a negative image.
7. Staying in a scene for too long
– Most scenes should definitely be edited for performance to under 30 seconds, however there are scenes that can warrant more than the allotted time. The ideal scene will show versatility, range, and the ability to show an emotional arc of a character in less than 30 seconds. The moment a scene feels repetitive it is time to edit the scene down or move on to the next clip in a demo reel.
8. Bad Acting
– Too often people try to put as many scenes as possible in their reel in an attempt to show experience. Putting a piece of bad acting in a reel, no matter how pretty or handsome you look, can truly hurt your ability to get an audition. It is far better to have one strong and compelling scene than three mediocre ones. When it comes to demo reels, less is more.
9. Too Long or too Short
– The industry standard on length has shortened along with attention span, and is presently three minutes or less, with some exceptions ranging up to four minutes. A reel’s length will vary based on the number and quality of scenes an actor has at their disposal. If it’s longer than that, it is typically for a higher profile actor, whose demo reel goes straight to the producer/director often bypassing the casting director all together.
10. Poor Editing
– Every actor must have a demo reel, just as they must have a headshot. Yes, some actors can shoot their own headshots, but most know they cannot. However, actors do often choose to attempt to edit their own demo reels on consumer software. Make the investment in your career by having it cut professionally. A professional demo reel editor can take a scene that is focused on another character and transform it into a scene highlighting YOUR character and performance, to help emphasize the actor whose demo it is and underplaying or minimizing the other actors present in a scene. A skilled editor can do this seamlessly, so that it looks and sounds like the original cut of the film. With so many actors doing the editing themselves, it has become an opportunity for those who do use a professional demo reel editor to outshine those who do not.